LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) - The Detroit Tigers issued jersey No. 74 to Casey Mize and for the next few days, he will be just one of 31 pitchers in camp, trying to get his arm and body ready for a long baseball season.
But the 21-year-old right-hander was the No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft last June, and as Detroit’s No. 1 hope for the future, he was bound to attract more than his share of attention, even while just trying to fit in.
“When you’re a draft pick like that, everybody’s staring at you anyway,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “You’ve got your name on your back and everybody’s paying attention and you can put more pressure on yourself.”
Not much pressure yet, says Mize.
“I’m super excited, but I don’t think there’s much different adrenaline just because of the time frame,” he said after his first outdoor workout in a big league training camp. “I think probably when I get on the mound in a game situation, there’ll be more adrenaline.”
That appearance is almost certain to come within the next two or three weeks and could well be the highlight of the Tigers’ spring.
“We’ll work him in some games,” said pitching coach Rick Anderson, who has been impressed by Mize’s early-morning arrivals and scientific approach to pitching.
“I called him over the other day and I said: “You’re going to lead by example with what you do.’ You watch him work and he gets after it. He’s focused and driven,” Anderson said.
That’s fine by Mize.
“I’m not really trying to set an example for other people,” he said. “I’m just trying to do what I need to do, honestly, and if people look at that and see positive, that’s great.”
The Tigers saw enough positives out of Mize at Auburn University to draft him first and give him a $7.5 million signing bonus eight months ago. He made one start in the Gulf Coast League and four starts for Lakeland in the Florida State League, pitching 13 2/3 innings and giving up six earned runs while striking out 14.
“That was the plan, to just make a handful of starts and then shut it down, just so I can get my feet wet,” he said. “I think we executed that well.”
Now he’s in a big league camp as a non-roster invitee.
“Just looking around and seeing the names on the back of the jerseys has been kind of cool for me,” he said. “Small things like that, just kind of putting into perspective where I am and how happy I am to be here.”
Mize brought along a new pitch, which is in the early stages of development.
“It’s going to act kind of like a slurve,” he said. “It’s not going to be like a sweeping slider, it’s not going to be like a vertical breaking ball. It’s going to be somewhere in between.”
To this point, his routine isn’t all that different from what he did last year at Auburn — stretching, playing catch, conditioning. The last thing the Tigers want to see is Mize overthrowing.
“What those guys want to do right now is fit right and not be noticed,” Gardenhire said. “It is about calming down and relaxing and not trying do too much. If you throw the ball 95, throw it 95. Don’t try to throw it 105. Don’t try to make the ball spin more because you’re in a big league camp.
“Just be you. There’s a reason you got drafted. Let’s just get our bodies in shape and then we’ll go from there.”